Howard Dean’s Incest Vote
A blast from the probable Democratic convention speaker's past.


Howard Dean–for all intents and purposes–exited the Democratic primaries with his famous scream. But it would have been the voters who’d screamed had they known about a vote buried in Dean’s lefty Vermont past–in favor of incest. Yes, in favor of incest.

The Kerry campaign is even now considering what prominence to give Dean at next week’s convention. Dean, of course, has an intense following among the Democratic base, but he runs counter to the careful image of political and social moderation Kerry is attempting to project with all his might. How counter? Consider his incest vote.

In 1983, a Vermont legislator named Elizabeth Edwards introduced a bill to allow a 65-year-old woman to marry her 86-year-old maternal uncle, despite incest laws banning the match. Edwards, a Republican (only in Vermont, kids!), figured that incest laws were primarily about preventing defective offspring, and her neighbors Ramona Crane and Harold Forbes were too old to bear children. “They’re a super-neat couple who don’t have any money, and they just have each other, and I think they should be able to get married if they want to,” Edwards told United Press International for a February 23, 1983, story.

The bill passed the state House 73-67 with Howard Dean, who was elected to the legislature in 1982, voting for the exemption from the incest laws. The bill went on to the Senate, where it met a firm rebuke. A Senate committee voted 5-0 not to take up the measure. The committee’s chairman, Republican Allen Avery, explained, “It’s setting a bad precedent. Once you do it for the Forbeses, you have to do it for others. There certainly is not any support among members of the Senate to deal with it.”

In short, Dean was on the left-most fringe of this question even in liberal Vermont.

The couple in question went to Canada to get married by a Universalist minister, but Canadian officials–even they were more conservative than Dean–quickly explained that their laws also prevented the union. “If it isn’t legal anywhere, what good is it?” Ramona complained.

Well, it would have been legal in Vermont had Howard Dean gotten his way. That’s just one data point the Kerry campaign will doubtless want to consider in its calculations about what role to give the controversial former Democratic governor next week.